According to the New Zealand Herald, at the time of the volcanic eruption, the Virginia couple, Matthew and Lauren Urey, made their way from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas to White Island for a day trip.
Matthew, 36, reportedly suffered burns to 80 percent of his body, while his wife, 32-year-old Lauren, was rushed to an Auckland hospital for surgery after suffering burns to over 20 percent of her body.
Matthew later phoned his mother in distress to say they had been “burned very bad[ly],” reported The Washington Post.
“He said he would try to call as soon as he could, but talking and making phone calls was difficult,” Lauren’s mother, Barbara Barham told the Post.
“His hands were so badly burned it was hard for him to make a phone call,” she added.
“Obviously, I’m panicking. I don’t know how to act. I feel like I should be crying, but I can’t even cry.”
At least five people have been confirmed as killed by the eruption, while a further eight have been listed as missing and presumed dead. Besides the American newlyweds, 29 others were hospitalized after the eruption, officials said, with 27 in total who have burns to at least 30 percent of their bodies.
Deputy Commissioner John Tims of New Zealand Police today issued a correction to a previous statement which said a criminal investigation would be conducted into the circumstances surrounding the eruption on White Island.
“To correct an earlier statement, it is too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation,” Tims said. “The police investigation on behalf of the coroner will be carried out in parallel with a WorkSafe New Zealand investigation.”
“WorkSafe New Zealand has opened a health and safety investigation into the harm and loss of life caused by the eruption.
“As the workplace health and safety regulator and administrator of the Adventure Activities Regulations, WorkSafe will be investigating and considering all of the relevant work health and safety issues surrounding this tragic event.”
An intensive care paramedic who flew to help victims of Monday’s eruption described what he saw as a “shocking experience,” likening the scene on White Island to the recent TV drama mini-series “Chernobyl.”
“Everything was just blanketed in ash. It was quite an overwhelming feeling,” Russell Clark told Reuters.
Clark works with the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter emergency service, which was sent to Whakatane to assist in the rescue efforts. Whakatane, on the North Island’s east coast, is the main base for tours to White Island, about 30 miles off the coast.
Clark said they had received reports of a number of casualties and multiple patients in boats as they flew to the island, and saw a heavily damaged helicopter as they arrived there.
“We were getting status updates so we knew there were high-acuity patients, very, very critical patients,” he said.
“We didn’t find any survivors on the island. And it was … It would’ve been quite traumatic for them.”
Tourists from Australia, the United States, Britain, China, and Malaysia as well as New Zealanders were among the missing and injured, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters.
Reuters contributed to this report.